At the book launch for the print-version of her award-winning play da kink in my hair, playwright trey anthony introduced d'bi.young âe" whose standout performance as Staci-Anne was one of da kink's many showstealers âe" by saying, âeoeThere are people who are talented, and there are people who are just touched, you know?âe
The publication of young's art on black is one of those community milestones you wait for. And young is one of those artists you see around over the years and want to watch where she's going to go, because you know she's always going somewhere, and it's going to be an interesting place.
I've watched young go from launching her first spoken word CD, when the love is not enough, fresh from Concordia in Montreal (2000), to travelling to Cuba and collaborating with talented Afro-Cuban hiphop artists and producing her second spoken word with music CD to becoming one of the stars of da kink in my hair to winning two Doras (outstanding new play and outstanding performance by a female in a principal role in a play) in 2006 for her play blood.claat: one womban story.
Then there are those âeoesmallerâe accomplishments: winning the CBC Poetry Face-Off in 2004; starring in Vision TV's Lord Have Mercy (as the baldheaded women's studies major working the leather jacket and talking about Audre Lorde), and producing four albums and five plays in six years. Young's multi-genred brilliance as a dub poet, actor and theatre creatrix lights any space she graces on fire.
So it's a celebration that art on black âe" the first written collection of young's work to date âe" has been published by Women's Press. The book collects many pieces of dub poetry created by young from the late 90s to the present. young pulls off what many spoken word artists try and fail to do âe" rocking the page as much as she rocks the stage. In art on black, she takes us on a journey through her growth as a young black Jamaican woman coming of age in Jamaica and Canada. Her work feels very much in keeping with the West African concept of Sankofa, which literally translates to mean "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot," and is used today across the pan-African world to promote the idea that African people must go back to our roots in order to move forward. In a similar way, young's words are a refusal to forget Jamaican women's traditions and stories in North America, as well as reaching back to reclaim earlier histories âe" the female body's wisdom and the wisdom of the Orishas (Yoruban manifestations of God worshipped throughout the global African diaspora.)
In âeoedubbin revolution,âe the first of the bookâe(TM)s three sections, young's older pieces can be found, which establish a baseline of work for the collection. In placing keystone pieces like, âeoeChildren of a lesser god...âe , âeoeMamaâe and âeoeCyclesâe here, young begins to articulate who she is, connecting herself to her female ancestry and exploring menstrual cycles, the body, surviving incest, violence, racism, America and homophobia. It's a pleasure to see classic pieces like, âeoeain't i a oomanâe âe"âeoeteachah seh: welcome class to feminism 101 we a guh talk bout gloria steinem betty friedan/ the liberation of di white middle-class oomaan...âe âe" and âeoejohnny fi hornett,âe about one young Black man's death from police brutality, which many will have heard young perform, on the page to savour.
The second section, âeoe3,âe contains a diversity of pieces, many of which are shorter, including âeoethe orisha letters,âe 8 short pieces directly addressing the orisha Ogun (the deity of war, iron, labour) and Yemonja (the divine mother and goddess of the sea). The reader is reminded of Audre Lorde's direct addresses to the Orisha in her poetry; young has a similar commitment to making her relationship with Orisha new and articulating it.
The final section, âeoeHybrid,âe contains newer work and some prose/poetic pieces. I especially appreciated âeoeletter to tchaiko,âe where young speaks from the heart about her work to negotiate living between Jamaica, Toronto and Cuba in her creation and life as a diasporic artist still deeply rooted in home. âeoeGendah bendahâe and âeoebrown skin ladyâe are two longer poems, both of which are courageous and important. Hearing young chant in âeoegendah bendahâe (whether in your head as you read her words or when sheâe(TM)s live on stage) âe" âeoeTo all my people who be fucking with gender lines... to all weirdoes... to all chichi ma. Maama man. Sodomite. Butch dyke. Malecon. Femme...âe âe" is an important moment in queer of colour and queer Caribbean poetic movement.
âeoeBrown skin ladyâe is a poem that will resonate with anyone returning home from exile/diaspora and navigating the longing and challenges there:
'come buy some ackee from mi nuh nice girl'
'ay foreighnah, mi waan talk to yuh likkle bit you know'
'dark skin lady, a selling some yam and banna over here, yuh want any'
'rata pickney, ay naturalist, come here nuh man'
'afrikan princess blessed'
when I walked in jamaica I floated in on water
washed up against the heat and nostalgia
I embraced my soul
allowed her to kiss my face
and sweat canada out of my pores
out of my armpits
above my tits
below my lips
out of my punany
an island excorcism...
I want to go home
let me crawl into you
protect me from myself
I promise to be humble
young is the logical inheritor of the mantle worn by legendary Toronto-based feminist dub poet Lillian Allen (Revolutionary Tea Party, Condition Critical, Psychic Unrest.) She is the next generation of feminist, queer-identified dub poetics in a city known as a hotspot of diasporic dub poetry culture. She is not, however, a carbon copy of what's come before. She's her own punk-dub-dancehall working-class Jamaican working-class queer mama baldheaded Black girl creation, and we love her for it.
Despite spoken word's explosion as an art form, it's an achievement that art on black got published. These are still days where the publication of poetry is a crapshoot, where every spoken word artist I know has been told that poetry doesn't sell. And that goes double for hell-raising women of colour setting mics and stages on fire. We need to celebrate that young's writing can be accessed at any library, ordered for high-school English class and bought via the Internet anywhere in the world.
This book truly is âeoeword/sound/power.âe Go buy it to savor the words of someone emerging as one of North America's most important griots.âe"Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
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